Answers sought over deadly Niger ambush

Questioned what information Senate Armed Services Committee still needed, John McCain said: ...
Questioned what information Senate Armed Services Committee still needed, John McCain said: "Everything."

US senator John McCain says he may consider issuing a subpoena because the White House has not been forthcoming with details of an ambush in Niger that left four American soldiers dead.

The attack earlier this month, which US officials suspect was carried out by a local Islamic State affiliate, has thrown a spotlight on the US counter-terrorism mission in the West African country, which has about 800 US troops.

"It may require a subpoena," McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said when asked what steps might be needed to take to determine what happened to the four troops.

Questioned what information the committee still needed, McCain said: "Everything."

Asked whether the White House had been forthcoming with the information needed by the committee, he added, "of course not."

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said a Pentagon investigation is aimed at finding out what happened in Niger.

"An investigation doesn't mean anything was wrong. An investigation doesn't mean people's heads are going to roll. The fact is, they need to find out what happened and why it happened," he said during an appearance in the White House briefing room.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Thursday that the incident was under investigation and defended the military's response, even as he acknowledged that the military did not yet have all the accurate information on it.

Initially, the Pentagon announced that three soldiers had been killed in the ambush. The body of a fourth soldier, Johnson, was recovered more than a day later and questions have been raised about why it took as long as it did.

"The US military does not leave its troops behind and I would just ask that you not question the actions of the troops who were caught in the firefight and question whether or not they did everything they could in order to bring everyone out at once," Mattis said before the start of a meeting with his Israeli counterpart.

McCain said he had had a good conversation with President Donald Trump's national security adviser, HR McMaster, and hoped the White House would eventually provide the information needed by the committee.

From initial accounts, the 40-member patrol, which included a dozen US troops, came under swift attack by militants riding in a dozen vehicles and on about 20 motorcycles.

The mission had been seen as a relatively lower-risk endeavor for America's elite commandos and there was no armed air cover at the time that could carry out air strikes if necessary.

Under heavy fire, US troops called in French fighter jets for air support, but the firefight was at such close quarters that the planes could not engage and were instead left circling overhead.

US officials have said French aircraft were overhead within 30 minutes.

Mattis said a contract aircraft evacuated the dead US soldiers and Johnson's body was found later by local nationals.

The US military's Africa Command said the soldiers were in the area to establish relations with local leaders and deemed it unlikely that they would meet resistance. 

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